Every year since 1997 Austin's Spanish-speaking community has crafted a Christmas play, taking the model of the traditional Pastorela pageant of long date, in which the birth of Jesus is witnessed by a simple shepherd girl. As in virtually all folk theatre, the story can be told many different ways and styles. The sponsoring coalition ALTA (the Austin Latino Theatre Alliance) recruits a different director every year for the Spanish-language enactment, so that each Austin Pastorela is unlike another -- the versions stretch back in local memory, like Christmas ornaments specially crafted for the tree.
Shifting the metaphor: it was a pleasure again this year to unpack ALTA's annual gift to the public. Director Alejandro Pedemonte and playwright Miguel Angel Santana have put together a thoroughly contemporary Christmas story. Natividad is the gentle story of the upper-middle-class Pastor ("Shepherd") family, gathered for Christmas in a home furnished both with contemporary art -- courtesy of Austin artists -- and cleanly modern contemporary furniture, courtesy of the Motif furniture stores of Austin and San Antonio.
David and Estrella ("Star") Pastor have two attractive unmarried adult children, Sara and Benjamin. Sara's serious boyfriend -- her novio -- attends the meal. Peripheral figures provide drama and comic relief: Aunt Lucy, extravagantly dramatic and suspicious; rustic neighbor "El borrego" Reyes ("Sheep" King(s)) and a couple of flirtatious young ladies, Solia and Dora. In the family chat over dinner Tia Lucy rakes up disputes from many years before and insinuates that Sara's novio is being unfaithful because he is concerned by the plight of a young pregnant unmarried woman he met at his grocery store job.